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by Barry Maitland
St. Martin's Minotaur, October 2006
312 pages
ISBN: 031235892X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Architecture's loss is very much crime fiction's gain in that Barry Maitland, formerly Professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, has retired from that prestigious position and now writes full-time.

Detective Chief Inspector Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla were introduced to an admiring audience in Maitland's debut novel, THE MARX SISTERS. NO TRACE is about art and artists. Brock and Kolla are assigned to the investigation of the disappearance of three missing girls. One of the children is the daughter of famed painter Gabriel Rudd. Tracey was snatched from Rudd's home on the fringes of the artists' colony.

As the search for the three missing girls proceeds, it seems that somehow all three are tied to people in and around the area. And Rudd is urged to turn his grief and guilt into an art form, much as he did following the suicide of his wife. This is the genesis of his tasteless No Trace exhibition.

In the meantime, Brock is the subject of an investigation by Judge Sir (Jugular -- although he prefers to be known as Jocular) Jack Beaufort. Beaufort is having his portrait painted by one of the artists implicated in the disappearances.

As usual, the detection tale is told against the background of the personal lives of Brock and Kolla. The one is having difficulties with his relationship, the other is recently bereft of hers. Both are able, despite their unhappiness, to concentrate on their work.

Maitland must have done a lot of research in order to present this meticulously detailed look at the art world of London. It would be worth a look were he to list his sources in an acknowledgment but perhaps not everyone reads these. His ideas on paedophilia and paedophiles, too, are interesting, as is his knowledge of the hierarchy within Scotland Yard and the procedures adopted by them. His attention to post mortem operations, too, is always meticulous -- if, at times, gruesome.

This is not a book for those who don't wish to know about man's inhumanity to children. People might flinch at some of the author's notions. But true fans of suspense fiction will be entertained by the clear writing and excellent plotting in this tale. Maitland has carefully built up the characters of Kolla and Brock over the seven previous novels but still manages to add facets to them in this work. His portrayal of the selfish, exploitative artist Gabriel, father of the missing Tracey, is masterly.

If you have not previously encountered Maitland's work, do go out and buy earlier novels, if only the first, the wonderful THE MARX SISTERS, in order to get some idea of his two protagonists. For myself, I am glad I read them in order and while this is a standalone, I feel it can be better appreciated in the light of Maitland's earlier work, which I can't praise highly enough.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, November 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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